Sailing Alone

People often ask me if I feel lonely sailing solo, and the answer is no.  Or very rarely, to be more precise.  There are exceptional moments, and I just recently passed through one of them.  It was unexpected, and it hit me hard.

Just prior to departing Culebra (Puerto Rico) in late January, 2019, while clearing a stopped up galley sink drain, I discovered that the seacock to the through-hull would not entirely close off.  What I surmised, and what later turned out to be the case, was that the tapered plug was pitted and corroded and therefore no longer able to shut the water off.  I pride myself on my diligent maintenance of my craft.  I do not carry boat insurance, nor do I have a liferaft or any global communications offshore.  I choose literally to take my life into my own hands.  In order to make this a reasonable course of action as opposed to a madcap adventure, I pay attention to detail.  I continue to learn and develop basic seamanship, the skills that have served sailors for centuries.  I take advantage of new technology such as GPS and AIS, which add a margin of safety.   I run a tight ship.  

So my pride took a hit, and would almost literally take another hit when, while still obsessing over the problem with the seacock and sailing up the west coast of Culebra, I nearly hit a reef.  It was on the chart, I was just not paying attention. 

Once clear out to sea, the usual discomforts also made their presence known– living on a rocking boat, being put through sail drills because of changing conditions, and so on.   It was the hard life again.

The following day I discovered the through-hull had resumed leaking.  Actually it was the bronze elbow coming off the through-hull which I would soon discover had a hole due to corrosion.  I wrapped the whole thing up with duct tape, which held the leak back to a slow drip.  

From all the sea miles I have sailed, I have come to understand the ocean as a blind force.  It shows its beautiful baby blues one day, its rage the next.  But the aesthetic or moral qualities I use to describe it are only my human projections.  It is, in fact, no such thing.  The sea does not care whether I live or die.  It does what it does; it is what it is.  And so with all the rest of nature, except for only my fellow humans.  And perhaps for some of our domesticated animals.

Being alone at sea and facing a potentially catastrophic failure with my beloved craft feels like contracting a bodily illness.  All of my plans are getting instantly re-written by forces I cannot control.  Nature asserts herself.  When such problems first emerge, they can seem overwhelming, no doubt fueled by the fear of slow suffocation in water.   It is during these times that I find being alone really feels lonely.  

As I managed to get the problem under control, about when I was entering the Old Bahama Channel, my despondency began to wane and the forward looking optimism returned. I would be able to repair, and at some point replace the through-hull. The old girl would be good as new. I was thinking of new video ideas. I had a new music composition in mid-development. And now that reaching my destination safely was looking probable, I was looking forward to getting ashore again, back to civilization.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I am a social animal. I am an introvert by nature. I can only take society– like medicine–in measured doses. But I do like to hit the town after returning from the abyss, enjoy the company of people enjoying themselves, even if few I meet will have arrived by the same route.

1 comment

  1. I sailed the Caribbean alone as well, in 2010. I’m a bit introverted as well, though at some point the trip was a bit lonely. I have a good picture of a waterspout I spotted while sailing the west side of Culebra, luckily it disappeared before we got too close. I wonder if you are as big a Bernard Moitessier fan as I am, I see him in your wind vane and your little wind direction flags on the spreaders…


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